My mom and I have this sort of unspoken rule, I call it the “Salted Caramel Commandment.” Basically, this means that whenever salted caramel in any form is on a menu, one of us has to try it. It’s tough, but we manage to do pretty well. Our caramel repertoire covers much of the San Francisco Bay Area, and just scratches the surface of Seattle, Portland, New York, and Boston. We even have a rank of salted caramel: Bi-Rite Creamery in the Mission in San Francisco has the best salted caramel ice cream, with Smitten in Hayes Valley a close second. As far as salted caramel candies go, we’re partial to the Trader Joe’s chocolate covered sea salt caramels that come in for the holidays, but sometimes we can’t get any because some our neighbors (ahem) buy out the whole stock.
Recently, I’ve found that salted caramel sauce is incredibly easy to make at home, and you can have a whole pint of it for less than a mini-scoop at Rick’s (which also has excellent salted caramel ice cream). Caramel making incorporates the ideal balance of restraint and daring. You must resist the urge to stir the pan while the sugar caramelizes, lest you end up with masses of sugar crystals, and you must be willing to cook the caramel until a very deep amber color, just seconds away from a pot of burned sugar.
Then, to take things really over the top, whip the salted caramel sauce into a rich buttercream frosting, and spread it on a chocolate cake. The birthday girl or boy will love you forever. If you happen to be really generous, make an extra mason jar of the sauce and give it as a gift with strict instructions to pour it on ice cream—how can anyone resist that?
Salted Caramel Sauce
Makes about 1 ½ cups
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
1 ½ teaspoons kosher or sea salt
- In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar and water, and stir with a rubber spatula until all the sugar is moistened. Put the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan occasionally until the sugar reaches a very deep amber color, 10-15 minutes. If you would like to use a candy thermometer, the sugar should be at about 350F. Take the caramel off heat and stir in the butter until melted, then pour in the cream. The mixture will bubble up, but will subside quickly. Return to low heat and stir until everything is combined and the butter and cream are at one with the caramel. Take off heat again and add the salt. Pour the caramel into a glass container and store in the fridge for frosting, ice cream, and other indulgent endeavors.
Salted Caramel Buttercream
Makes enough to frost a 9 inch layer cake
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 cups (1 lb.) powdered sugar
1 cup salted caramel sauce
½ teaspoon vanilla
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and add the powdered sugar about 1 cup at a time, beating thoroughly after every addition until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
- Add the salted caramel sauce and the vanilla and beat on medium speed until fully combined. Remove bowl from the mixer and mix a few times with a rubber spatula to ensure thorough mixing, then use the frosting to frost a cake of your choice. May I recommend this one?
Note: You will have some caramel sauce leftover if you use my recipe and then add it to the frosting. This is good news, especially if you drizzle the extra on some ice cream, sorbet, or even spread it between some delicate cookies.